Temper tantrums are unpleasant and disruptive behaviors or emotional outbursts. They often occur in response to unmet needs or desires. Tantrums are more likely to occur in younger children or others who cannot express their needs or control their emotions when they are frustrated. Every parent can expect to witness some temper tantrums in children from age 1–4 years. On average, temper tantrums are equally common in boys and girls, and more than half of young children will have one or more per week.
At home, there are predictable situations that can be expected to trigger temper tantrums, such as bedtime, suppertime, getting up, getting dressed, bath time, watching TV, parent talking on the phone, visitors at the house, family visiting another house, car rides, public places, family activities involving siblings, interactions with peers, and playtime. Other settings include transitions between activities, on the school bus, getting ready to work, interactions with other children, directives from the teacher, group activities, answering questions in class, individual seat work, and the playground.
Temper tantrums range from whining and crying to screaming, kicking, hitting, and breath holding. They’re equally common in boys and girls and usually occur between the ages of 1 to 3. Kids’ temperaments vary dramatically , so some kids may experience regular tantrums, whereas others have them rarely. They’re a normal part of development and don’t have to be seen as something negative. Unlike adults, kids don’t have the same inhibitions or control.
Several basic causes of tantrums are familiar to parents everywhere: The child is seeking attention or is tired, hungry, or uncomfortable. In addition, tantrums are often the result of kids’ frustration with the world , they can’t get something (for example, an object or a parent) to do what they want. Frustration is an unavoidable part of their lives as they learn how people, objects, and their own bodies work.
Tantrums are common during the second year of life, a time when children are acquiring language. Toddlers generally understand more than they can express. Imagine not being able to communicate your needs to someone , a frustrating experience that may precipitate a tantrum. As language skills improve, tantrums tend to decrease.
Another task toddlers are faced with is an increasing need for autonomy. Toddlers want a sense of independence and control over the environment, more than they may be capable of handling. This creates the perfect condition for power struggles as a child thinks “I can do it myself” or “I want it, give it to me.” When kids discover that they can’t do it and can’t have everything they want, the stage is set for a tantrum.
There are nine different types of temperaments in children:
• Hyperactive temperament predisposes the child to respond with fine- or gross-motor activity.
• Destructible temperament predisposes the child to pay more attention to his or her surroundings than to the caregiver.
• High intensity level temperament moves the child to yell, scream, or hit hard when feeling threatened.
• Irregular temperament moves the child to escape the source of stress by needing to eat, drink, sleep, or use the bathroom at irregular times when he or she does not really have the need.
• Negative persistent temperament is seen when the child seems stuck in his or her whining and complaining.
• Low sensory threshold temperament is evident when the child complains about tight clothes and people staring and refuses to be touched by others.
• Initial withdrawal temperament is found when children get clingy, shy, and unresponsive in new situations and around unfamiliar people.
• Poor adaptability temperament shows itself when children resist, shut down, and become passive-aggressive when asked to change activities.
• Negative mood temperament is found when children appear lethargic, sad, and lack the energy to perform a task.
At about age 1 1/2 some children will start throwing temper tantrums. These bouts of temper tantrums can last until approximately age 4. Some call this stage the terrible twos and others call it first adolescence because the struggle for independence is similar to what is seen during adolescence. Regardless of what the stage is called, there is a normal developmental course for temper tantrums.
One-and-a-half through 2 years old. Children during this stage will test the limits. They want to see how far they can go before a parent or teacher stops their behavior. At age 2 children are very egocentric and cannot see another person’s point of view. They want independence and self-control to explore their environment. When children cannot reach a goal, they show frustration by crying, arguing, yelling, or hitting. When children’s need for independence collides with the parents’ and teachers’ needs for safety and conformity, the conditions are perfect for a power struggle and a temper tantrum. The temper tantrum is designed to get the teacher or parent to desist in their demands or give them whatever they want. Many times children stop the temper tantrum only when they get what is desired. What is most upsetting to caregivers is that it is virtually impossible to reason with children who are having a temper tantrum, and arguing and cajoling in response to a temper tantrum only escalates the problem.
Three-year-old. By age 3 many children are less impulsive and can use language to express their needs. Tantrums at this age are often less frequent and less severe. Nevertheless, some preschoolers have learned that a temper tantrum is a good way to get what they want.
Four-year-old. Most children have the necessary motor and physical skills to meet many of their own needs without relying so much on an adult. At this age, children also have better language that allows them to express their anger and to problem-solve and compromise. Despite these improved skills, even kindergarten-age and school-age children can still have temper tantrums when they are faced with demanding academic tasks and new interpersonal situations in school.
Dealing with the tantrums, prevention is much easier than it is managed once it is erupted. Reward children for positive attention rather than negative attention. During situations when they are prone to temper tantrums, catch them when they are being good. Do not ask children to do something when they must do what you ask. Give children control over little things whenever possible by giving choices. A little bit of power given to the child can stave off the big power struggles later. Keep off-limit objects out of sight and therefore out of mind. In an art activity keep the scissors out of reach if children are not ready to use them safely. Distract children by redirection to another activity when they tantrum over something they should not do or cannot have. Change environments, thus removing the child from the source of the temper tantrum. Make sure that children are well rested and fed in situations in which a temper tantrum is a likely possibility. Increase your tolerance level. Signal children before you reach the end of an activity so that they can get prepared for the transition. Provide pre-academic, behavioral, and social challenges that are at the child’s developmental level so that the child does not become frustrated.
What if temper tantrums are uncontrollable, if you feel,
• You’re uncomfortable with your responses or you feel out of control.
• You keep giving in.
• The tantrums arouse a lot of bad feelings.
• The tantrums increase in frequency, intensity, or duration.
• Your child frequently hurts himself or herself or others.
• Your child is destructive.
• Your child displays mood disorders such as negativity, low self-esteem, or extreme dependence.
Your doctor also can check for any physical problems that may be contributing to the tantrums, although this is not common. These include hearing or vision problems, a chronic illness, language delays, or a learning disability.
In Homeopathy we use the symptoms of the behavior to guide us to a remedy. For example we look at when the tantrums started and the type of triggers that usually set the child off. We want to know what they do when they are angry and how they look (red face, white face, glazed eyes, increased strength), how long it takes to calm them down and what happens afterwards.
With this information and a detailed case history of your child’s overall health, a homeopathic remedy is prescribed that matches the child’s needs.
Here are a few example remedies to show a representation of different types of behaviors.
Chamomilla: The child is very bad tempered, impatient, restless and contrary and doesn’t seem to know what they want. It is difficult to please them and the only thing that seems to settle them temporarily is when they are carried or rocked hard. They will scream when they are put down again. Pain is intolerable and they clench their fists, stiffen the body and arches backwards. They are loud and the screaming can drive the parents to distraction. (It is an important remedy used during teething where the symptoms fit).
Stramonium: The child goes into an uncontrollable rage, strikes, bites, kicks and for their safety the parent tries to restrain them with great difficulty. The speech is often incoherent and they use threatening language. They can also be fearful having repeated night terrors and awake screaming. There is a huge sense of danger with lots of fears of the dark, dogs, and night.
Nux Vomica: The child has a strong personality and can fly into a fiery and violent temper with total intolerance of the slightest contradiction. They can easily flare up when something disturbs or upsets them and they violently reproach others for their faults. They are easily bored, very impatient and always busy achieving something.
Homeopathy used with good discipline, good boundaries and a loving home environment can help calm the storm and create a more peaceful home for all!